The stories that are lost. The stories that never arrived, that never grew from a fleeting thought, a wish, a dream. The stories that have vanished with their storyteller.
He’s just eighteen, a recruit eager for adventure and randy as hell. The regiment has arrived at Albert, commun principal of the Somme Département, the headquarters of the Allied forces. A final stop on a blazing August morning before their posting in the trenches of the front line.
‘Souvenir de France, m’sieur?’
‘M’sieur, m’sieur!’ Importunings following him down the little cobbled street.
‘Non, merci, non s’il vous plaît, non, non!’
The desperate women, refugees from the front lines where their villages had turned into no-man’s land. Hocking primitive embroidery with jingoistic English sentiments. ‘Right is might’ jostling with the Union Jack, flags of empire. What would he, French-Canadian to his core, do with such reminders of British dominion?
Arriving at the end of the street. A solitary woman in rags, crawling from the ditch, eyes streaming. Clutching her own small offering, waving it at him.
‘M’sieur, pour votre amoureuse?’ She is very young, perhaps his age, hard to tell. She proffers the post card: pretty blue flowers surrounding a cursive text: Keep Me in Your Heart.
Looking her up and down, assessing the body beneath the dishevelled garments.
‘Dix centimes, m’sieur, dix seulement.’ Eyes downcast, not engaging.
‘Et pour vous?’ The question springing unbidden, straight from his loins. The desire. The need.
‘Mais non, Monsieur, non!’ She pulls herself upright, spits on the ground. ‘Je ne suis pas à vendre!’
He’s immediately crestfallen, ashamed. His mother (paix à son âme) would disown him, could she have heard his query. He’s not sure he owns himself anymore.
‘Désolé, m’amselle, trés désolé. Pardonne-moi.’
‘La petite carte postale? Dix centimes, m’sieur?’ She perseveres. He recognises her desperate need. He looks again. She’s starving. He sticks his hand in his pocket, pulling out a loose collection of foreign coins. Unknown value hastily thrust into her cupped fingers. Avoiding eye contact.
‘J’espère que ça suffit.’
Accepting the carte postale placed softly in his open hand. Her murmured gratitude. ‘Merci m’sieur, merci beaucoup, merci!’
Turning around, retracing his steps through the tiny village. The embroidered card stuffed into his greyback pocket. Cursing his desire. Flooded with shame. Stumbling back to the line.
. . . . . . –>now at 17k words, lying fallow until May, 2021